By David A. Vargas
Common Global Ministries Board
April 15, 2004
My dear brothers and sisters in the family of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ: "today, ...yes, today is still the day that the Lord has made," and no matter the difficult situations that we may encountering or the tough decisions we may have to make, "let us" not forget to " rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)
On this day that the Lord has made:
- we thank God and celebrate with joy the life and ministry of William J. Nottingham, his commitment to Global Ministries, his passion for justice and peace, his love for the Church, and faithfulness to Jesus Christ;
On this day that the Lord has made:
- we thank God and celebrate the ecumenical partnership of our two denominations and this Board's commitment, not only to talk and talk. . about and to approve impressive theological statements on Christian unity, but to walk the difficult walk (yes!, ...difficult walk) of affirming the unity of the body of Christ in our daily work routine and testimony;
- we thank God and celebrate that congregations and individual members of our two Churches still believe in, and support, Global Ministries as a valid and trustful response to Jesus' mandate to engage in mission "to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8);
On this day that the Lord has made:
- I have to thank God for allowing me the opportunity to visit India, Thailand and China since our last Board meeting:
- Especially, to be a witness to the love, commitment and passion of our missionary Anil Henry, a young medical doctor (a surgeon) and his family who, having the option of seeking a very lucrative career, has devoted his life and talents to serve the poorest of the poor in the Mungele Hospital in the heart of India;
On this day that the Lord has made, I thank God for allowing me the opportunity:
– To experience a fast-growing post-denominational Church in China; to visit the memorial site for victims of a 1937 war massacre in Nanjing, and to see in that museum a photo of one of our former missionaries under the UCMS, Searle Bates (Robert Bates' father), included among the heroes of that country, for having the courage to denounce those who committed such horrendous crimes;
– And I thank God for the opportunity to meet Shauntang Zhu, a 90-year-old minister who is still the President of the Seminary in Hefei, Anhui and other elders of the Church in China who, in spite of having experienced the effects of a cruel 10-year cultural revolution that even cost the life of one of Rev. Zhu's sons, ...they have remained faithful to Jesus. . . without showing not even a drop of bitterness in their lives. We certainly thank God for each of those witnesses of the 21st Century China.
- We thank God and celebrate with joy that 70 members of Victory Church UCC in Stone Mountain, Georgia, traveled to South Africa with the area executive and program associate for that region, and that a new and strong partnership relationship is emerging between our Church family in South Africa, Victory Church and Global Ministries;
- We thank God and celebrate the significant contribution of our Africa Office to an urgently needed reform process of the Disciples Community of the Congo, including the design of a Congo Consultation scheduled for early May with the participation of representatives from the Congolese Church, United Evangelical Mission of Germany, and Global Ministries, including the area executive, co-executive and President Emeritus of DOM..
- We thank God and celebrate with joy that, in the midst of a terrible social, economic and political turmoil in Haiti, the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH) not only remained faithful as a prophetic voice in that country, but also ordained 50 new pastors, including a woman, and on February 5, 2004, 32 students graduated from their D'Andre Seminary in Porto Prince, the theological education institution organized by our missionaries Ruth and Charles Wallace, and where Sandra and Daniel Gourdet currently serve.
- We also thank God and celebrate the election of two women to prominent Church-related positions in Latin America and the Caribbean: Rev. Rhodes Gonzalez, a pastor of our partner, the Christian Pentecostal Church, to the presidency of the Cuba Council of Churches; and Mercedes Garcia Bachcmann as the new Rector of the ISEDET Seminary in Buenos Aires.
On this day that the Lord has made ... we thank God and we celebrate the incredible and courageous faith and hope of our brothers and sisters who are still struggling for life, and for peace with justice precisely in the middle of the precious and sacred land where Jesus was born and where the miracle of incarnation occurred 2000 years ago. On this day that the Lord has made I want to quote a few sentences from the Easter message of Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem:
"It is Easter again. I stand firm in my convictions that we are not in a post-Christian era, as some in the West are tempted to believe. We are still first century Christians. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus is not only the event of yesterday. It is the event of today, day in and day out, until his coming again in glory."
In a recent letter I received from a colleague, he writes that he finds it difficult to imagine how I and my people can live with such a situation. I guess he means – where humiliation, hopelessness and impotency of world leaders to stop this madness, separation walls, destruction of homes and death at every corner in our lives, etc. He asks how do you manage to stay sane? In my reply, I reminded him that we are the community of the resurrection, of the risen Lord who overcame death by dying, and blessed us with life.
....I went on to say what I have always believed that death will not have the last word. Life will. Life with dignity, life with freedom, life with harmony, life with integrity, life with peace – just and truthful. Such a life will not only have the last word, it will be a life that is worth living. Thus we continue to testify and continue to celebrate, knowing that Christ, our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed for us; therefore, we can keep the feast, not with the old leaven; the leaven of malice and wickedness, the leaven of war and hostility, – but with the unleavened bread of sincerity, truth, righteousness, love, and life at its best."
April 11, 2004
Friends, just knowing and being in partnership with that courageous community of faith in Jerusalem on this "day that the Lord has made," ....is enough to "rejoice and be glad in it."
But, for Global Ministries, this day that the Lord has made is also a day of challenges, ...a day of very serious challenges:
- the temptation, for instance, of watering our convictions and prophetic message in order to avoid being controversial during this time of a senseless war is just around the corner every day;
- the temptation of becoming egocentric/chauvinist, nationalistic, and parochial these days is becoming very attractive;
- or the temptation of allowing our spirit being crushed and swallowed by the bad news of a huge projected deficit in the 2005 Global Ministries budget, and the urgent need to implement new drastic modifications in the use of our financial and human resources;
However, on this day that the Lord has made, our greatest challenge is not only to be able to discover new alternatives to increase our Global Ministries income and the support we receive from Disciples and UCC constituents. But our greatest talent to be truly faithful to God in our administration/stewardship of the several million dollars that our congregations and individual donors still provide for our ministry.
Our greatest challenge is not to be able to articulate in an impressive way the lament of our heart for not having any more the resources we used to have in order to be able to do what we used to do, ... but to discern, on this day that the Lord has made, what God wants us to do with what we have today,... keeping our joy and gratitude to God for those precious and sacred resources we still have available, and for the opportunity given us to serve in this vital manifestation of the Church that is Global Ministries.
As we face the reality that we no longer have everything that is required to respond to an avalanche of needs and our commitments throughout the world, we do not have any doubt that now we have to ask ourselves crucial questions which we have been avoiding or postponing for some time;
. . . questions that now do require an answer with urgency:
- Do we need to have all the overseas partnerships that we have? Are all the resources that our congregations and donors have deposited in our hands being used primarily to respond to the basic priorities of Global Ministries?
- Do we need to have all the missionary assignments we currently have? . . . or the home-based staff positions that we have? Do we?
- What is first in our priorities, . . . and what is secondary, now that we are realizing everything cannot be a first priority.
- Do we have to continue traveling at the pace we have been traveling?
- What are we going to do first? To rescue that man or woman assaulted and robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho... to denounce that such crime happened on that road? What is first?
- How many persons, office, communities, teams, task forces, staff . . . are really needed to accomplish the task that God is calling this Global Ministries to accomplish?? How many?
But even more important for us at this juncture in our journey is to ask ourselves:
"How can we present to Jesus, . . . in the midst of the avalanche of needs and commitments that still surround us, the only "five loaves and two fishes" that are left, . . . trusting that Jesus can still perform a miracle?? How??
And speaking about Jesus: Who is that Jesus?
Or, who do we say that Jesus is today? Jesus is....
- the passion for justice that still saturates Bill Nottingham's ministry;
- the healing power that inspires the missionary work of Anil Henry in India;
- the strength of our Christian brothers and sisters in China, and the most powerful anti-bitterness vaccine in their daily life;
- the only goal of the reform process of the Disciples Community of the Congo;
- the faithfulness of CONASPEH in Haiti;
- the resurrection in every days' horizon of the Anglicans and the Church in general in Israel;
- ...the reason for this ecumenical testimony we have named Global Ministries;
- what transforms a church's tourist visit to South Africa into a commitment to engage in serious mission;
- the one, the only one that, with and through our limited resources, is still able today to perform the miracle of using our "five loaves of bread and two fish" to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit those who are abandoned and neglected from our doorsteps to "the ends of the earth."
O Yes, ...this the day that Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.